Global Meat Production Trends

Malaysian poultry slaughter house. Leong Wan Ching. May 2011.
Photo credit: Flickr CC by sooncm.

Today’s post is a follow-up to last week’s post on the changing trade trends in global poultry consumption. Today, we will look at the changing production of meat according to type over the years, both in the U.S. and globally.


How many times have the investors said that they are bullish on all things agriculture because the rising level of affluence in the populous developing nations translates to a future with more people eating more meat?

Case in point is China. In 1978, China’s meat consumption was one-third that of the U.S. Now, it is double that of the U.S.

If you look at this chart, so far the most recent growth in global meat consumption is coming from pork, poultry, eggs, and farm raised fish (aquaculture). These are the meat types which convert feed to protein (pound per pound) the most efficiently.

Counter to what is happening in the developing nations, some very interesting changes in trends in the U.S.’s meat consumption have taken place in recent years. For one, overall U.S. meat consumption has recently headed downwards for the first time in a century. The other interesting notable trend is that per person, poultry consumption has surpassed beef and pork shares in recent decades. So we, too, are increasingly eating the smaller meat animals which convert feed to meat most efficiently.

Many leading environmental voices such as Jon Foley worry that cattle are the number one threat to sustainable global agricultural production. The current trends would suggest otherwise. We are globally headed towards using aquaculture and smaller meat animals for our protein, rich and poor alike. Plus, I’m with Bill Gates and similar minded Silicon Valley investors who believe that the future hot growth spot will be in the innovation of meat substitutes. While this is nothing new in the Asian nations, it is an emerging area of innovation here in the U.S.

Recently, the LA Times featured a story about the company, Beyond Meat, which has created a vegetarian product that is practically indistinguishable from meat. Will it cost less than highly efficient aquaculture and poultry produced meat? So far, that appears doubtful.

Personally, here in the U.S. I’d like to see government subsidies get behind the well-managed production of grass-fed beef or bison, and pasture-raised chickens due to all of the health benefits those meats and eggs provide over factory-produced livestock. Such a policy could help with land use conversion from the over-produced monoculture commodity crops farmers rely upon today, which would be a win-win for the consumer, the land, and the producer.

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